The message of Divine Mercy is a very simple one, while also being exceptionally profound; that God is Mercy, this mercy being His greatest attribute; and it is available to all souls – we need only recognise our need of it and ask to receive it.
However, there is also opposition to the idea of a merciful God – not all souls do or will accept this reality of the Merciful God.
Writing in 1980, in his great Encyclical ‘Dives In Miseriecordiae’ (‘Rich In Mercy’), St John Paul II expressed his thoughts on those who, in our present day, have a different idea of Who and what God is –
“The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it. This dominion over the earth, sometimes understood in a one – sided and superficial way, seems to have no room for mercy.”
Here, the late Pope seems to be describing a form of human pride – pride in our own achievements, a by-product of which is a poisonous forgetfulness. This forgetfulness is the loss of remembrance that we are mere creatures, and not the Creator. Unfortunately, this sense of pride precludes the efficacy of Divine Mercy from acting within us. To see ourselves as the author of all things means not to see God, truly the Author. He alone is almighty, all holy, true God. When we forget this, we also forget our need of Him, as well as our need to be contrite for those times when we fail Him in some way or another. The Catechism tells us that we are made ‘to know God, to love Him and to serve Him in this world, and to be with Him forever in the next’.
Pride was the root cause of the fall of Lucifer and the angels who went with him; they refused to serve. Our own pride risks delivering the same fate to us, if we, too, refuse to serve because we erroneously believe ourselves to be Master, not servant.
St John Paul goes on to identify another difficulty, another trap, into which we might fall without due care and attention – the notion of a distorted sense of justice which is in opposition to mercy;
“It is not difficult to see that in the modern world the sense of justice has been reawakening on a vast scale.. The Church shares with the people of our time this profound and ardent desire for a life which is just in every aspect.. And yet, it would be difficult not to notice that very often programs which start from the idea of justice and which ought to assist its fulfillment among individuals, groups and human societies, in practice suffer from distortions.. This kind of abuse of the idea of justice and the practical distortion of it show how far human action can deviate from justice itself, even when it is being undertaken in the name of justice. Not in vain did Christ challenge His listeners, faithful to the doctrine of the Old Testament, for their attitude which was manifested in the words: ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. This was the form of distortion of justice at that time; and today’s forms continue to be modeled on it..
The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can even lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if that deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions. It has been precisely historical experience that, among other things, has led to the formulation of the saying: summum ius, summa iniuria. This statement does not detract from the value of justice and does not minimize the significance of the order that is based upon it; it only indicates, under another aspect, the need to draw from the powers of the spirit which condition the very order of justice, powers which are still more profound.”
This ‘deeper power, which is love’ is, of course, known to us as mercy when it is applied to our misery. And as many commentators have noted, justice and mercy are two sides of the one coin. Justice does not obliterate mercy. But mercy does triumph over justice. This, surely, is the very message of the Gospel, of the Cross itself. In this lies our hope.
This distorted sense of justice attempts to obliterate mercy and can lead to a very sterile form of rigidity. Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, has spoken about this repeatedly in various sermons and addresses. He has commented that this sort of rigidity focusses on the wrong thing – our Faith is in a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ. We cannot limit the action of His grace, nor can we limit His mercy, which is unfathomable. Ultimately, the heart which is rigid risks leaving itself entirely closed to the inspirations and workings of the Holy Spirit, Who is the very breath of the Church, the same Church which He constantly renews.
Saint John Paul noted that he saw much to be concerned about – but also thankfully, much to be hopeful about. He wrote –
“The truth, revealed in Christ, about God the ‘Father of mercies,’ enables us to ‘see’ Him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering, when he is under threat at the very heart of his existence and dignity. And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost spontaneously, to the mercy of God. They are certainly being moved to do this by Christ Himself, who through His Spirit works within human hearts. For the mystery of God the ‘Father of mercies’ revealed by Christ becomes, in the context of today’s threats to man, as it were a unique appeal addressed to the Church.”
And so mercy is very much a key message of our time, for this is surely a time of great suffering for mankind, who faces threats on every side.
I read recently that Saint John Paul was the Pope who reminded us of what we believe; that Benedict was the Pope who reminded us why we believe it; and that Francis is the Pope who puts that belief into action. I thought this was a very profound observation, noting the unbroken continuum stretching across these three Holy Fathers, given to us in our time of need and each echoing the same message – the message of mercy, which is none other than the message of the Gospel itself.
Pope John Paul was certainly known as ‘the Pope of Fatima’, for a number of reasons which are so well known as to not require repeating here. However, he has also earned the right to be called the ‘Pope of Mercy’ – it was he who brought the Divine Mercy message into the full light of the Church, who approved those requests made by the Merciful Lord to Saint Faustina (instituting the Feast of Mercy, for example) and who finally raised the humble Sister to the honours of the Altar, making her the first Saint of the third millenium. His Encyclical, quoted above, is an extraordinarily beautiful letter to the Church, and one which deservers to be read slowly and carefully, and then meditated upon at length.
And in so doing, may the Merciful Lord open our little hearts to His infinite grace and mercy, to the action of His Holy Spirit working within us and within the Church, which is His Mystical Body.